Friday, August 20, 2010

Sonny Sharrock - Monkey Pockie Boo

Are my reviews getting too reviewery?

Early in my career as a word alignment artist, I penned a lavishly post-modern review of Sonny Sharrock's 1969 ethereally transcendent debut LP, Black Woman - an timeless snapshot of jazz and flamenco deconstructionism I've become irreparably enchanted by since my discovery (on my own, that is, and before anyone else would even give this stunning record the time of day, ha ha!). Trekking through the remainder of Sharrock's largely approachable and enchanting catalog of soundscapes, I've sdsfg5

You see? That's what I mean by too reviewery. Wordy, self-assured, wiser-than-thou, garbage. And it's an unconscious thing, too. Ugh. Let me see if I can meet up with these pretensions, but at the other end of the spectrum. So here we go: equidistant to the center of normalcy as the above paragraph, just in the opposite direction:
Sunny ShaROCK is KUHra-zy! Lots of wEiRd noises and big ol' screamy AHHHH parts and boop-bop drums going slappety-slap with the woodle wo00dle string thing in the 1st track and oh MY GOD the BEST pa

Maybe both of these are sort of exaggerated a fraction, though.
Alright, that's enough amusement of any kind. We are here to do business like adults. Adult men, to be precise, as women are inferior in every way. In my travels, I've discovered that, much like every artist ever, Sonny Sharrock has a few lame albums in his musical armory; namely Paradise and the super rare follow-up, Dance With Me Montana. The former is slick-as-oil fusion-esque bullshit with big clean-as-a-whistle funk grooves and keyboards providing a backdrop for Sonny to get quasi-nonsensical over and Linda to sing quasi-nonsensically with. It's truly a bizarre release when you consider it's attempted commercialization leaves most of the elements that made the first two unprofitable intact, just smeared with high-gloss resin. Oh, and the latter has a silly painting of Sonny doing a panged Eric Clapton face on the cover. I haven't heard it, actually, but it's probably bad. Alright fine I'll listen to it before I say I hate it.
Monkey Pockie Boo is the cryptically/retardedly titled follow-up to the aforementioned LP, and is a rather different affair, with all the melodic, flamenco-esque guitar flourishes kidnapped, brutalized, and hastily concealed beneath a soft bed of soil and decomposing leaves alongside a highway completely depleted in favor of a rickety mess of comparatively standard free jazz noise bursts. No negative implications, though, because despite it's corresponding "normalcy", it's still what you'd call a classic (because it's really easy to use this as a justification of one's approval) of near comical AGGRESSION. This album will flog you senseless, in other words.

Just like Black Woman, this album is pretty damn short, and frankly, that's the way I typically enjoy my albums - just barely cracking the 35 minute mark. Why? Perhaps my IQ is remarkably low and I get intimidated by double albums half the time. "27th Day" is a hair over 17 minutes, bustin' in dis bitch with a clunky, brooding scrape of the bass punctuated by Linda's wails and most tubular of all, a kazoo/slide-whistle. The moments where the kazoo harmonizes with the upward sweep of Linda's vocals are truly awesome, and provide one of the very few moments of clarity in the album. Unlike most free jazz releases where the band begins by playing a motif, the scratchy bass and the relatively composed vocal emissions are about as close as you get - heck, the band even returns to this "motif" at the songs conclusion.
"Soon" is the real gem here as far as I'm concerned, which begins with an unaccompanied vocal melody that could bust into gospel at any second, but instead slams a crowbar at your head with a startling burst of improv-noise from all involved. The aggression displayed on this song is ludicrous, with the percussion at it's busiest, Sonny's shards of guitar coming across as more blistering noise than fragmented abstractions, and Linda losing the fuck out of her shit all over the place. For 7 minutes! Great stuff, and it makes the closer, a title track, sound like an exercise in restraint in comparison. The two (Linda and Sonny) start chanting, and everything stays relatively grounded despite the frantic percussion. It's good, but I'm tired and don't feel like writing anymore today, so just trust me here.
Sorry for the lame rapidshituponmyface link (seriously, why hasn't the galaxy embraced mediafire?), but I'm not at my laptop right now. Expect a new link, soon. "SO HEY", you interject most rudely, "HOWZ ZHIS STACK UP TO BLACK WOMAN, LOL?" This is probably the more celebrated, reputation-packed affair, but I'd take Black Woman over this most days of the week. Not "any day", since Monkey Pockie Boo is really good. No sir. But most days, sure. Black Woman presented a unique vision that sadly was never expanded upon or even heard by most jazz-wads of the era (as far as I've heard), which sorta blows considering how beautiful, chaotic, and mesmerizing it is as a whole. I'd love to hear more artists meld the flamenco-esque guitar virtuosity with angular, aggressive guitar improv, busy percussion, and such blaring vocalesce.
Sadly, this would never be.

Until I took up the challenge, that is.

No wait, I've never played an instrument.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Khanate - s/t

It's about time I shared an unusual little personality disorder with you, the presumed reader: annually, if not bi-annually, I slip off my avant-dork coil and recede into the most harmless cache of my music collection - namely, a stew of nostalgia-overloading pop punk, ska-punk, and indie rock. In this exclusive time span, I become what the snottiest of the hipster cognoscenti might consider a music wastrel, jiggling my angsty hindquarters to the emotionally resonant crash-n-scream of The Broadways, Discount (who I actually did a post on), Archers Of Loaf, Lucero, Defiance Ohio, Assorted Jelly Beans, Crimpshrine, Scared Of Chaka, Common Rider, and even a brief encounter or two with fucking Alkaline Trio (I know, shut up).

Now I know what you're thinking: "Steve, who the fuck cares? Why be embarrassed by anything you listen to (except Alkaline Trio, you giant vagina)? Music is there to be enjoyed, not for status" - and you'd be right! There's no reason to be embarrassed by anything I enjoy, but that's what hits me as so fucking strange - it's not that I'm embarrassed to tell people I like this stuff, it's the fact that I DON'T EVEN REMOTELY LIKE half of this music when I'm not in the aforementioned pop punk/ska/folk punk/indie phase. Confused? I am too! There are a handful of artists I flog in these yearly dark ages I would defend any day of the week (The Broadways, Operation Ivy, Discount, early American Steel, Pavement, Boris The Sprinkler, J Church etc...), but then there's the other stuff - the stuff that has no real musical merits that I know sucks ass even when I'm listening to it heavily. This category includes The Lawrence Arms, Doughboys, Fifth Hour Hero, The Lillingtons, This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb, Built To Spill, and a zillion other lame-beyond-comprehension musical nadirs who happen to write a few super catchy tunes in relentlessly stupid fashion.

Why bring this up now? To explain the lack of entries, primarily. I started this blog to detail my adventures in the wild-n-woolly - free jazz, RIO, no wave, ethno-whatever, psychedelic, noise rock, just plain noise, drone, lost gems, etc - while keeping the rest of my library on the sidelines. I'm beginning to rethink this stance, though - why halt entries completely just because I'm not getting a headache from some Brotzmann squawk or Solmania shriek? THINGS ARE GONNA CHANGE AROUND HERE - just not right now, since I'm totally diggin' some Sun Ra as I type this.
Anyway, now that we got that drivel out of the way, let's talk about the album above (way above) - New York's drone/doom juggernaut Khanate's debut. Back in late 2006, I was wading through the gloomy jungle of doom and sludge metal (of which I'd only made excursions into via Dystopia and Man Is The Bastard previously) when I read a largely negative review of Khanate's self-titled debut on Teufel's Tomb (a metal review site I have a history with). It essentially dismissed the record as too slow and too heavy for staff member Double D's to enjoy. Being a sucker for the utmost extremes of any genre, I excitedly downloaded a sample track, the suffocatingly dense and sick-as-a-mutha' "Skincoat" - a near 10 minutes of feedback, disjointed sub-Burning Witch riffery, and some of the most harrowing and utterly disturbed vocals I've ever heard. After the 9 minutes and 40 seconds elapsed, I was fucking SOLD and hurriedly ordered a copy o'er the web.

No surprise, the rest of the album was just as good, albeit far less accessible than the sample track (if you can believe that after hearing it). The guitarwork is the cornerstone here, alternating between crushing, sub-zero BPM riffage, bursts of feedback, passages of echo-y twang a la Hex-era Earth, and even a few malnourished, skeletal, and quiet melodies rendered even creepier by the juxtaposition of a faceless bass growl rumbling in the distance. Pretty much any Khanate enthusiast will tell you the real hook here is former O.L.D mouthpiece Alan Dubin's unbelievably psychotic yelps and sputtering whispers, and I'd have to agree. If you're familiar with the aforementioned grind band's Old Lady Drivers LP, imagine the cartoonish psychobabble elicited at a third of the speed and heavily enunciating quasi-abstract lyrical blurbs of pain, hatred, and unconscious insanity. Throughout the album, little whispered words are looped and distorted to great effect amongst the quieter portions, especially the three-and-a-half minute interlude, "Torching Koroviev". Also, no covers of Eric Clapton's "Cocaine"*.

The 4th track (of five) is perhaps my favorite, albeit not a track I've been man enough to listen to outside the context of the album. "Under Rotting Sky" is perhaps one of the most deadening pieces of music I've ever heard, with the riffage slowing to such a crawl that it forgoes any semblance of melody or rhythm towards the conclusion and edges close to pure, discomforting, abstraction. Alan's crazed exclamations about strangulation of himself and another with a "blanket of you" escalate this track into a number one hit for cocktail parties. Try listening to this album while biking through your quiet little town at midnight. It's funny how vulnerable it can make you feel.

Hey, I have a fun idea! To get all Julian Cope/Pitchfork-y for a second, let's make a pretentiously artsy and largely visual interpretation of this album's sound. Okay, here goes: a rundown farmhouse in a barren field. A series of mindless daily endeavors delivered with unhealthy precision. A sole inhabitant falling through a delirium of anti-social anxieties and insatiable obsessions. A corpse redressed and positioned at a dinner table. Self loathing complimenting a god complex. A massive UFO abducting all the world's styrofoam before jettisoning into the nearest star. A single woman breaking the heel off her designer high heels. A sentient pineapple. A boxer accused of

In conclusion, I will never make any money through artistic means in this lifetime.

(*Also, this isn't a wAcKy, RaNdOm, quip, O.L.D do a cover of "Cocaine" on their first album)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sonic Youth - Confusion Is Sex

To quote Bruce "The Employer" Springsteen: "a man who turns his back on his blog just ain't no good". As such, I will no wait ju

So yesterday I had a near unfathomably dull and seemingly interminable dream segmented into literally dozens of loosely connected "acts", each of which would require at least one paragraph to detail and one additional paragraph to describe the excruciating levels of boredom associated. It all started with a blindfolded car ride to the envelope factory, when suddenly t

Have you ever taken a dump so tremendous that you craved the cold embrace of an earthen plot? If not, well lemme tell you, mister, the

I think we can all agree that the above are not the most engaging opening lines for a blog entry, and since I have close to nothing interesting to say, let's move directly into the actual content.
As weird as this may seem, I got into Sonic Youth all those years back through a hastily conceived research paper on the New Yawk No Wave scene for an 11th grade English assignment. At the time, I was reveling deep in the world of post-punk snob-rock and spiraling towards it's ultimate artistic conclusion in the fields of punk-funk and mutant disco. No Wave, as it was, became a short lived obsession of mine, and I ended up hording every DNA, Gynecologists, Theoretical Girls, Friction, and Lydia Lunch associated hunk of laughably overserious shit within reach. It wasn't until this brush with research fields of the utmost prestige (ie: wikipedia) that I'd heard a whole lot about Sonic Youth's involvement in the scene, or at least, Thurston Moore's.
The Noise Festival was an influential festival of art noise music curated by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth at the art space White Columns in June 1981. Sonic Youth made their first live appearance at this show. Each night three to five acts performed, including Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatman, Jeffrey Lohn, Dog Eat Dog, Built on Guilt, Rudolph Grey, the Avant Squares, Mofungo, Red Decade, Robin Crutchfield's Dark Day, Ad Hoc Rock, Intense Molecular Activity, Smoking Section, Chinese Puzzle, Avoidance Behaviour, and Sonic Youth.
Good enough context for me to take the plunge. After all, quite a few people consider 1983's Confusion Is Sex the last legitimate No Wave release (which is not something I necessarily agree with, as I'm not one of those elitist dorks who claim that any artist replicating a genre who's scene has long since expired to be illegitimate).
To those who haven't heard this album, there are a number of ways I could describe it, including Glenn Branca orchestrating an indie rock unit. That said, this is a seriously art-damaged mess, severely de-& re-tuned, with odd little inconclusive lyrical quips meandering hazily out of the disaffected maws of Thurston and Kim (who remarkably, sounds even more atonal than she does now). As I recall, there is no studio wizardry or effects pedals at play here (aside the distortion of course), just a mass of otherworldy tunings and heavily prepared guitars that often take on a metallic, clanking, percussive edge.

"So how about the songs? Are they even any good?" you and I say in unison, bored to hell by my increasingly slipshod reviewing style. Well, while this is likely the least accessible material Sonic Youth ever recorded (barring their hit-or-miss live improv sessions and the hilarious TV Shit EP with Yamatsuka Eye), it's the most easily ingested No Wave (or at least No Wave-indebted) album next to The Contortions' monstrous Buy LP I detailed a year ago. There have been far more whacked out takes on the genre, but Sonic Youth had the knack early on for taking these unusual components and crafting actual melodies out of them. Sure, they're often extremely unwelcoming, idiosyncratic, melodies braced with extremely cold 'n' dark inflections, but it not once sounds like the band is just fucking around or even experimenting too heavily. If I can go out on a limb here, the stark, disjointed, make-up of each song sounds a league or two more natural here than the like-minded mid-song passages found in the late 80's incarnation of the band.

To answer that earlier "question"/lame literary device, this is a fucking great album that any fan of the band (or avant-garde rock) needs to check out. It definitely requires some foreplay, especially considering that two of the album's most somber, downright creepy tracks start up the party, but once you let it sink in, it's a super rewarding listen.
For the record, I actually prefer college-friendly Sonic Youth most of the time, so if you need a more eardrum-friendly fix, start at EVOL and work your way up to Goo. BUT OH, wouldn't it be soooo subversive to ONLY like this album? I would trade in so much indie cred for an opportunity to solely enjoy all the albums the world ignores for relatively logical reasons. Here's a potential top 10 list for me to adopt once I reach the apex of eclectic hipster contrarianism:
1.) Gerogerigegege - Showa
2.) Bad Brains - Black Dots (and ONLY Black Dots)
3.) Earth - Extra Capsular Extraction
4.) The Fall - Live In London 1980 (Cassette Version)
5.) John Lennon & Yoko Ono - Wedding Album
6.) ZNR - Traite De Mecanique Populaire
7.) Whitehouse - Right to Kill: Dedicated To Denis Andrew Nilsen
8.) Led Zepellin - Coda
9.) Friction - Live '79 (B-Side ONLY)
10.) Discharge - Never Again EP